Sunday Night Football: Seahawks Must Win to Keep Playoff Hopes Alive

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Sunday Night Football- Seahawks Must Win to Keep Playoff Hopes Alive

Seattle was a fashionable pick to make the playoffs and, by some, even to win the vaunted NFC West. Much of the hype surrounded the addition of Waldron as the offensive play-caller. Waldron had been with the Rams, and the thought was he would bring a Rams-style offense to Seattle. Apart from the first week of the NFL season, that has not happened. Now the Seahawks are 2-3 and without Wilson for the next four weeks. 

Where The Seahawks Stand

The Seahawks sit at 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the division. The Seahawks have played the eleventh most challenging schedule of any team in the NFL thus far this season. The Seahawks’ remaining schedule projects as the NFL’s eleventh easiest schedule. So there is a cause for optimism. 

Based on their points scored and points allowed, the Seahawks are expected to win 47.56% of their games this season. In a 17 game season, that projects to 8.08 wins. The model’s simulations currently expect the Seahawks to outperform that expectation by almost a full game as it projects 8.96 wins this season for the Seahawks. 

The Seahawks, like every team in the NFL, have two paths to the playoffs. They can win their division, or they can claim one of the three wildcard spots. Here is the Seahawks remaining schedule and their win probabilities for each game:

The model gives the Seahawks only a 37% chance to make the playoffs but only a 6% chance to win the division. For purposes of this argument, we will dismiss the division winner route to the playoffs. The model only gives the Seahawks a six percent chance. While they are 1-1 in the division, they will only be favored in one of their remaining four divisional games. 

To make the playoffs as one of the three Wildcard teams from the NFC, Seattle will be competing with the Vikings, Bears, Saints, Falcons, and the two other non-divisional winners from the NFC West – Arizona, San Francisco, and the LA Rams. 

The model indicates that any NFC Wildcard team is going to have to get to nine wins. We can see from the chart above that Seattle has three games remaining where their win expectation exceeds 65%, Jacksonville, at Houston, and Detroit. Winning all three will take the Seahawks to five wins. Two games are remaining, both on the road, where Seattle will be close to even money to win, at New Orleans and at Chicago. If the Seahawks split those games, as expected, they will get to six wins and need three additional wins to make the playoffs.  

The easiest path to those three wins requires winning the three games remaining where they are small favorites or small underdogs: at Pittsburgh, at Washington, and Week 13 in San Francisco. Winning these three games gets them to nine wins. The challenge starts this Sunday in Pittsburgh. If Seattle losses this game, their playoff hopes will spiral downward.   

Can Seattle Beat Pittsburgh Without Wilson

Bill Simmons of The Ringer, as a theory that some teams improve when they lose their best player. He calls it the Ewing-Theory. As an avid Knicks fan, the theory breaks my heart. Still, is there reason to believe Seattle might exceed expectations in the short-term without their best player Wilson? The answer is yes. 

In the preseason, the line on this game was Seattle +2.5. The look-ahead line was also Seattle +2.5. The line now is Seattle +5 or 5.5 at most shops. This reflects only a three-point shift for Wilson’s absence. The debate has raged all week on the correct value of Wilson. My model makes him worth 5.3 points. The debate has coalesced between 4.7 and 5.9. Given that, it appears Pittsburgh may be the solid and easy side. 

Not so fast. My model would have had the raw expected spread (RES) as Seahawks -1.5, not plus 2.5, if Wilson were healthy. Thus, when I apply my Wilson correction, I would expect the line to be Pittsburgh -3.8. While both teams have disappointed this season, my model was far lower on Pittsburgh before the season than most and has downgraded them from the priors more than Seattle since the NFL season began. 

Despite the raw expected spread, the model thinks Seattle can pull the upset. 

I stayed away from the game because we simply do not have sufficient data on Walrdon and Geno Smith. Here is why Simmons’ Ewing-Theory might apply. New offensive coordinator Shane Waldron came from the Rams to instill balance and effectiveness in the Seattle offense. Pete Carrol tends to run the ball far too often, and Wilson tends to fall in love with the low percentage vertical passing game at the expense of taking the check down and moving the chains. This resulted in Seattle having one of the NFL’s longest yards to go on third down last season, and that is not a recipe to win football games. 

Waldron’s offense is a masterful blend of the two. It is vertical, but it also stretches the field horizontally with receiver, and bubble screens, motions, and quick slants. Waldron attacks the entire field constantly. This is a far more effective approach to play calling. Before his injury, and apart from Week One when Wilson looked sensational, Wilson has reverted to playing long-ball. He was running a corrupt version of Waldron’s scheme. 

I know Geno Smith came in and looked fantastic against the Rams, do not put too much stock in that performance. The Rams had not game-planned for him, and Smith played against a prevent defense. Here is what we can put stock in, Smith is a competent veteran backup that will run Waldron’s office the way it is intended. He will not make the sensational, inexplicable 69-yard strike that Wilson will, but neither will he try that throw when an 8-yard completion for a first down is directly in front of him. 

What we will learn, along with the Seahawks, on Sunday are two things. First, whether Waldron’s offense executed correctly by Smith can compensate sufficiently for the absence of Wilson in the short term. There is reason to believe it can. Second, we will learn whether the Seahawks’ playoff hopes are alive. If the answer to the first question is yes, then the second question is likely yes. If the answer to the first question is no, Seattle may be starring down the barrel of a disappointing season and an uncertain future with Wilson. 

No pressure, Shane. It is only the entire world watching.

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